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The Power of Longevity and the Capacity for Impact

November 20, 2012

Working at the same institution for more than 25 years and seeing it grow tremendously during that time is what Thomas Campbell, AFP’s newest ACFRE, believes fundraising should be all about.

Campbell, the vice president of institutional advancement at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., joined the institution in 1988 as coordinator of its annual fund. He’s worked his way up the fundraising ladder, getting involved in every aspect of the university’s fundraising during the process.

“It wasn’t a planned decision, but staying at the same place during my fundraising career has definitely affected my outlook and philosophy on fundraising and philanthropy,” says Campbell, who earned his ACFRE in October of this year. “I’ve gotten to see this university grow and expand before my very eyes. DeSales was only started in 1965, and during my time, we’ve moved from 1000 students and seven buildings to about 30 buildings and well over 3,000 students. Knowing that I’ve been a part of that—that our fundraising efforts have helped to build something real and compelling—it’s an amazing feeling.”

Campbell believes strongly that longevity is one of the most important, but underappreciated, goals that a fundraiser should have. Moving around has a chance to damage the image of the profession, he says, and fundraisers need to think carefully when they switch jobs. Is a small bump in salary really worth it, especially when donors can feel used or uncertain when fundraising positions are being occupied by new individuals every other year? After all, the longer you stay in a position, the more effective you can be and the greater impact you can create.

But longevity and job-hopping aren’t just issues for the fundraising profession. “Managers—whether they’re fundraisers themselves or other senior executives—have to do a better job of giving employees a fulfilling job,” says Campbell. “We talk all the time about stewarding our donors, but do we ever spend time stewarding our fundraisers and employees? Managers can do lots of things to create an exciting and inspiring workplace, perhaps using training opportunities, non-monetary rewards or even just a simple thank-you on occasion. You’d be shocked sometimes at the reaction to thanking someone or giving them the afternoon off. Those sorts of things resonate with employees. And think about the cost savings to the organization by not having to retrain employees continually.”

A final reason Campbell focuses on longevity are the experiences he’s received from being involved in every aspect of the university’s fundraising, including all capital campaigns, major gifts, planned and deferred giving, special events, the annual fund, and constituency relations. He is also now responsible for the school’s communications and marketing.

“I’ve even done computer entry when I first started,” says Campbell. “That sort of background gives me a connection with every fundraiser on campus because I’ve been there. I know what they’re doing, what their challenges are and how I can help inspire them.

Obviously, not everyone’s career path will be the same, and finding the right organization can take time. But once you do, he says, fundraisers should own it. Stay committed to the cause and embrace the organization’s vision, and you can be a powerful force for not only the institution, but for other staff as well.

Why the ACFRE?

Like many fundraisers, Campbell had earned his CFRE but had been so busy with his daily work and responsibilities that he never had the time to fully consider the ACFRE. Lona Farr, a long-time member of AFP, became Campbell’s mentor after he asked her to help with a fundraising presentation at DeSales. “One of the most important things she did was make me take the time to think about my profession, its future, and what I could do to give back,” he says.

Campbell decided he wanted to earn the ACFRE because he felt it was his duty to help advance the profession and enhance its image with the public. Fundraising is a profession with standards and best practices, says Campbell, and credentialing is how we show that, just like attorneys and accountants do. The more fundraisers who earn the ACFRE, the better it is for the profession.

“A lot of people think fundraising is something they can do because they served on a committee or were involved in an event at one time,” says Campbell. “We know differently, but one of our key challenges is to educate the public about the differences between what they think they know, and what truly fundraising is. It’s a true, noble profession that not anyone can just pick up and do. The more we can show that, the more our profession will be respected—and one of the most critical ways is to earn the ACFRE.”

Campbell found the entire ACFRE process to be very rigorous, but also well worth it. The oral exam he found most challenging, primarily because one can’t really study for it because it’s based on  your own have body of knowledge. “But you try anyway,” he adds with a smile. “What you realize is how much more you have to learn, and it gives you an incredible appreciation for continuing education even if you have many years of experience in the profession.”

Campbell is very pleased he made the choice and noted that the credential gives him added credibility with his colleagues, his staff, university officials and others. He held off on some writing until he received the ACFRE so he could publish with the authority that the certificate provides. In addition, earning the ACFRE has enhanced his relationship with the president of DeSales, who is very supportive of allowing Campbell to get more involved in larger professional issues, such as research.

“I can remember when we first started seeing ‘CFRE preferred” for some job applications,” says Campbell. “Hopefully in the future we’ll see ‘CFRE required, ACFRE preferred’.”

Fundamentals Still Reign

When asked what the keys to successful fundraising are, Campbell says they’re very simple: the fundamentals still work. Cultivation and stewardship are his bywords, and getting donors involved remains critical. There are no shortcuts in fundraising, Campbell maintains. Fundraisers have to do their homework and tailor a donor’s involvement and funding to their interests.

And he’s adamant that donors don’t owe fundraisers and charities anything. “Donors are under no obligation to give to us, and we’re not entitled to anything no matter how hard we’ve worked,” he says. “We have to prove that we deserve their support.

Finally, for Campbell, it all boils down to building a culture of philanthropy and getting everyone involved in philanthropy. He’s done that at DeSales, where he sees an understanding of the importance of philanthropy now spreading to faculty, staff and even the students.

“Again, it’s all about your track record and what you’ve proven in the past,” he says. “When you’re at one place for a long time, people know what you stand for and that you not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. The kinds of relationships I’ve developed, the standards we’ve set, the milestone we’ve accomplished—they’ve only been possible because I’ve been committed to DeSales and people know they can count on me. That’s a priceless gift that every fundraiser should be working towards.” 

Thomas Campbell, ACFRE, is the 97th fundraiser to earn the Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive (ACFRE) credential. To learn more about the ACFRE, click here.

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